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Transport options between Vientiane and Luang Prabang

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I will be visiting Laos next February for ten days, flying in and out via Vientiane as part of a longer trip including Sri Lanka via KL. I prefer to avoid flying in country if possible.
After reading many trip reports here and on other forums it appears the intercity buses, including VIP and sleeper buses, are rather uncomfortable and unreliable. Minivans or private drivers with cars seem to be the best option.
I would appreciate any suggestions on the subject from those who have travelled in Laos on these questions and any other info you feel useful:
1. What would a car with driver cost for a 6 to 9 day trip starting and finishing in Vientiane via at least Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, possibly with a side trip to Plain of Jars? I would use the driver while in the towns as local transport too.
2. Is it best to book that in advance or just wander around the various agencies on arrival? Or should I take a chance on drivers arranged by a hotel?
3. If I use minivans between the cities, how do I select and book them?
I have lots of other questions, but that’s enough to begin with 
Cheers, Alan

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